NEWARK, N.J. -- Devils coach Pete DeBoer said the plan Friday against the Dallas Stars at least is to try to ease center Travis Zajac back in so he has the proper time to get re-acclimated to the NHL game both with his timing and speed.
DeBoer, though, admitted easing an all-around asset like Zajac back into the mix might prove to be difficult because he is a guy with a history of playing in every situation.
"He's a tough guy not to play because he does so many things well, but especially being in a back-to-back situation we're going to really try to monitor that," DeBoer said, referring to the Devils game Saturday in Montreal. "Travis is a hard guy not to play, so we'll see what exactly easing him in means. I know it won't be 20 minutes."
DeBoer laughed when a reporter suggested 19 minutes would be about right, but it may not be so farfetched considering Zajac averaged 19:46 of ice time last season, including 2:34 on the power play and 2:05 on the penalty kill. He also averaged more than 20 minutes per game in 2009-10 and nearly 19 minutes in 2008-09.
However, Zajac hasn't played in a game since April and he's coming off a four-month rehab after undergoing surgery to repair his torn left Achilles tendon on Aug. 18. The doctors initially told Zajac he'd be out anywhere between four-to-five months, and because he never had a setback he was able to come in on the short side.
"I didn't push myself right at the beginning," Zajac said. "I slowly built up stamina and strength and stability, and it's helped me to get further along faster."
Zajac will start Friday night as the third-line center between wings David Clarkson and Mattias Tedenby.
"I think we're going to have a lot of energy," Zajac said. "[Tedenby] plays with a lot of speed, [Clarkson] is physical and he's having a great season, so he's playing with a lot of confidence right now. Hopefully those guys help me out and I can eventually get to where I need to be contributing both offensively and defensively."
Zajac will have to wait an extra hour before he finally makes his season debut as Scott Niedermayer's jersey number retirement ceremony will push the start time back to 8 p.m. He said that won't change his mindset.
"I'll be nervous, a little anxious I think," Zajac said. "I'll be ready to go as soon as I get here I'm sure. I'm definitely excited to get out there and play with these guys again."
Zajac's teammates feel the same way.
"With how well Adam (Henrique) is playing, all of a sudden we're pretty deep at center," captain Zach Parise told NHL.com. "When he (Zajac) went out and then Jake (Jacob Josefsen), everyone thought center depth was going to be a big problem for us. It's good because he plays every situation -- even strength, 5-on-3, 3-on-5, everywhere else -- so once he gets comfortable and back into game speed it'll be really important for us to have him back."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl